Jesuits Have Sights on China

Outgoing Superior Says Congregation Hopes to Return

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ROME, JAN. 10, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Jesuits live in a time of waiting to fulfill their desire to return to China, said their superior-general, since the mission in that country is so directly linked with the foundations of the congregation.

Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach spoke with L'Osservatore Romano about the Jesuits' hopes to get back to China and other matters being discussed at their 35th General Congregation, which began Monday.

There are 225 Jesuits gathered to elect Father Kolvenbach's successor; 217 of them are electors. The 79-year-old priest had presented his request for retirement to the Pope.

Eighteen of the religious come from Africa, 40 from Latin America, 64 from Asia and Australia, 69 from Europe and 34 from North America.

Father Kolvenbach remarked that the Society of Jesus, when electing a new superior, "says what it hopes for the future: a prophet or a wise man, an innovator or a moderator, a contemplative or an active, an outstanding man or a man of unity."

He continued, saying the General Congregation "began with an evaluation of the present situation, with a discernment of what is light and what is shadow in the Society's service of the Church and the world. From this evaluation, the 'spark' should arise: This is the Jesuit we need to progress along the path of God."

Mission

Father Kolvenbach said the common denominator uniting all Jesuits in their diverse contexts is the mission.

"This implies a presence at the frontiers," he said. "Once they were the geographical frontiers of Christianity. Today, rather, they are the frontiers between the Gospel and culture, between faith and science, between the Church and society, between the good news and a troubled and confused world.

"According to the demands of the mission, there will always be an incredible variety of options and apostolic works, but in all of them, three responsibilities can be found together: announcing the word of God, sharing the life of Christ, and witnessing to the charity that the Spirit urges and nourishes."

Speaking of the mission, Father Kolvenbach particularly noted China, where the Jesuits were since the times of foundation, "beginning with St. Francis Xavier's dream, to continue with the marvelous apostolic activity of Matteo Ricci and his companions."

He added, "They achieved preaching Christ with the language of the Chinese culture and mentality, overcoming the prejudices and the sentiments of European superiority."

This tradition motivates Jesuits to keep their gaze on Christ, the superior said, to the point that "they have never renounced the desire to serve the Chinese people in their spiritual aspirations." In 1949, when the Jesuits were expelled from China, many of them stayed in nearby countries "awaiting a good opportunity to return to their posts."

He continued, "For the Society of Jesus, aside from a very modest actual presence, it is still a time of waiting -- awaiting the efforts of the Holy See to re-establish relations with China that would permit us to return to a mission so linked to the history of the Society."